Hyphenates

An individual who serves in more than one professional capacity is informally called a “hyphenate.” Some people, for example, are writer/directors, writer/producers, actor/producers, author/entrepreneurs, etc.

Let’s take a look at what it means to be a hyphenate, and the pros and cons of calling yourself one.

The upside to being a hyphenate is control. If you’re both the writer and the director, or the writer and a producer, you can likely exert more control over the creative process than if you’re just the writer. (Keep in mind, though, that control is all relative. Even if you’re the writer/director, you’re not exempt from the influence of financiers, prodco execs, distributors, etc.) In an industry where the writer often has precious little control over the filmmaking process, it can be tempting to want to have a hand in other aspects of the process so that your involvement is more tangible.

That said, though, you should very carefully consider marketing yourself as a hyphenate or insisting on being one as part of a deal to sell your writing. There are some pitfalls along that particular path.

PRODUCTION CONCERN – TIME MANAGEMENT

One of the biggest issues surrounding hyphenates is how they play into the management of responsibilities on set. Being a writer, director, producer, cinematographer, 1st Assistant Director, etc. is a full time job on a production. If you’re filling more than one of those capacities, there will be very real concerns about how you’ll balance the workload, especially on a smaller production where they can’t afford to surround you with backups and additional support.

In some cases, the roles don’t overlap as much. Since a lot of the writing is done in development and pre-production, someone can be a writer/director without too much of a conflict of interests. They can work on the script before they start shooting, and focus on the directing when the cameras start rolling with minimal back-and-forth (unless a production rewrite is needed).

On the other hand, it’s really hard to be a Director/Producer (capital ‘P,’ day-to-day producer) because those two jobs are both very active on set. The Producer is responsible for the logistics and management of the production while the director is responsible for the creative decisions. If those were the duties of one person, that one person would have to manage two full-time jobs by handling all of the logistics and all of the creative decisions on set when either job alone can be all-consuming.

PRODUCTION CONCERN – MARKETABILITY

The other concern with hyphenates is that when one person is filling multiple key roles, those roles are now off the table for the production to fill with other qualified people. People who might, for example, attract a financier. Or convince a completion bond company that the production is viable.

This is especially true if you’re not an A-list celebrity. If you’re someone who isn’t a hot commodity or a major box office draw and you’re the writer/director, that means writer and director are both off the table for potential higher-level attachments. If you’re the cinematographer and 1st Assistant Director, those are two roles that now cannot be filled by eminently qualified and more experienced individuals who specialize in that one specific thing.

PROTIP – KEEP IT SIMPLE

Don’t be the person who thinks having more hyphenates make you seem more professional. It has the opposite effect. Over the years, I’ve met a number of people who have handed me business cards with job descriptions along the lines of: writer / producer / director / actor / composer / blogger / personal trainer / freelance photographer / consultant / etc. and I have yet to hire or work with one who’s actually lived up to their claims of multifaceted expertise.

Most people roll their eyes when they see a business card or resume like that, and here are two reasons why:

  1. It’s nearly impossible to be professional-level good at more than a few things. It takes years of hard work and effort to become a good writer. Or a good director. Becoming a good writer and a good director is even tougher because you have to be good at two jobs. It gets exponentially more difficult to add professional-level job expertise in other capacities. Sure, you might also be a perfectly decent photographer, or you might have a knack for set design or picking good songs for the soundtrack. This isn’t to say people can’t have a diverse set of skills or talents. For most of us, though, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or days in our lifetimes to be top-tier professionals in more than a few capacities.
  2. Because of #1, it shows a clear misunderstanding of professional versus amateur status to list that many jobs on your business card or resume. Even more concerning, it means that a potential colleague or employer can’t tell the difference between the professional endeavors you’re pursuing full time, and those that you merely dabble in. If your resume lists twenty different job descriptions, how does someone know which activities you’ve put professional-grade time and energy into and which ones you just flirt with in your spare time?

In most cases, it’s better to limit your scope to one or two professional aspirations when you characterize your work to others. If you happen to be the kind of person who does legitimately have a half dozen different interests and pursuits, consider maintaining a separate presence for unrelated professions or grouping specializations under a general heading.

Someone with a day job as an accountant and a hobby or side business as a food blogger, for example, might want to consider different websites, business cards, etc. for his accounting practice and his blog.

A no-budget independent filmmaker who’s accustomed to doing a little of everything probably shouldn’t hand out business cards that say “Writer / Director / Producer / Actor / Editor / Production Designer / Unit Production Manager / Camera Operator / Music Supervisor / Sound Editor” and instead might have a better reaction to a more generalized job title like “Independent Filmmaker.”

CONCLUSION

The purpose of this post isn’t to talk you out of being a hyphenate if that’s what you really feel called to do. Rather, the purpose is simply to point out that being a hyphenate is not something that should be considered lightly, or solely as a prestige move.

A lot of writers fancy the idea of being a writer/director (or writer/producer in television) so they’ll have more control over their work. But if someone is to be taken seriously as a writer/director or writer/producer, they don’t just have to write a great script; they also have enough experience as a director or producer to justify being hired in that capacity.

Some hyphenates are created as a function of someone’s success. Writers, actors, and directors, for example, often start getting producer (small ‘p,’ non day-to-day) roles and responsibilities after a certain point in their careers as a way of allocating more money and creative control to those individuals who have really proven themselves to be key ingredients in the success of prior projects.

If you’re considering a hyphenate role in the entertainment industry, make sure that you’re fully willing to commit to the work and effort it takes to succeed in both capacities. Because you know what’s harder than breaking into this industry and getting a greenlit picture as a writer or a director? Breaking into this industry and getting a greenlit picture as a writer and director. 😉

Ultimately, you can be whatever you want to be. There’s nothing wrong with being “just” a writer. There’s nothing wrong with being “just” a director. And there’s nothing wrong with being a writer/director hyphenate if you really, truly want to do both. But make sure you really want to do it because all of the jobs on a movie are challenging, and you should spend time and energy pursuing something you’re not truly passionate about.

2 thoughts on “Hyphenates

  1. Just a bit of semantic nerdery, but we started calling them hyphenates because the job titles were hyphenated. Writer-director, director-producer, actor-director, etc. I wonder when the industry stopped hyphenating the titles and started using slashes?

    I guess we could start calling them slashes, but slash has a whole different connotation…

    • I bet it changed around the time the slasher genre started getting traction. Wouldn’t want anyone thinking auteurs are all psycho killers! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s